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Yesterday’s official launch of the deferred action program for DREAMers offered a reminder about how public policy changes can sometimes directly affect people’s lives. Unfortunately, yesterday also brought a reminder of the way politics can butt in on even the most celebratory of days, bringing into view the sharp distinctions between the parties on immigration policy.
Speaking to an overflow crowd of thousands waiting to apply for deferred action at Chicago’s Navy Pier yesterday, longtime DREAM Act champion Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) described what happened to make the day possible, “This is a force of people who have grown up in this country and want to be part of its future. They are creating a moral force beyond a legal force.” Leading pro-immigrant Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) noted, “Navy Pier is today’s Ellis Island, and while they saw New York City, today they see Chicago…But the most important thing is they see America.” Scenes similar to that in Chicago played out throughout the nation, leading Univisión anchor Jorge Ramos to say, “The day of DREAMS has arrived. As of today DREAMers can present their application for deferred action to the United States Government. This is historic.”
Not surprising, but certainly disappointing, is the fact that anti-immigrant standard-bearers used the day to double down on their opposition instead of celebrating the fact that thousands of people can finally take a step forward in their lives. Leading the anti-immigrant charge was Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ), who used the backdrop to issue an executive order barring those eligible for DREAMer deferred action from accessing any state benefits or driver’s licenses in Arizona. Brewer’s actions on immigration are typically heartless, but to issue this executive order on a day of around-the-country celebration is a special brand of cruelty that singles out young immigrants who came here as children and know no other home than Arizona.
Additionally, in the absence of alternate Republican voices – most notably those on the Republican presidential ticket – Brewer’s voice is defining the Republican Party for millions of Latino voters, along with other anti-immigrant crusaders such as Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). As we have pointed out, Romney has refused to answer whether he would keep or repeal the DREAMer protection policy if he takes office. And on the day of the smartest immigration policy change in decades, neither Romney nor vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (R-WI) saw fit to discuss the subject.
As a result, yesterday offered a reminder of the political distinctions between the parties on immigration policy – a fact not lost on Latino voters. Clearly, Brewer thought the action would excite her conservative base, but the impact of her action on the ballot box is far more likely to help Obama and the Democrats that Romney and the Republicans. As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post writes today:
Not too long ago, I sat down with a senior member of President Obama’s political team. Talk turned, as it often does, to the election, and the official said something that surprised me: If the president wins, this official thought that we would look back after the election and pinpoint the day the administration announced their new policy on deportations as the day the election was won… I didn’t think much of the Obama official’s comment at the time. But reading over some of the coverage of this policy change in local press, and looking at photos like this one, I’m starting to take it more seriously. Changing people’s lives is always more effective than another campaign ad. And this policy is looking like it’s going to change a lot of lives.